Preseason predictions are about as useful as the racy, lacy female thong. Sure, we spend a lot of time thinking about both, and both help keep us occupied when we're hiding out with the sports pages in the air duct above the women's dressing room at Wal-Mart. But all they really do is titillate our Y chromosome while providing little in the way of substance or function.
Still, everyone feels the need to make these predictions and what little decorum we have dictates that we do the same. Hey, we spend half our time calling out the "experts." The least we can do is put our own pigskin prophecies on the line. Here are our 2005 league-wide predictions for all to see and praise and quite possibly mock
Of course, the big question this season centers around the New England Patriots: Can they win the Super Bowl again? History and the "pundits" say they cannot. After all, no team has won three straight Super Bowls and only two teams in the league's 85-year history, the 1929-31 Packers and 1965-67 Packers, have won three consecutive NFL titles (those last two Packers NFL titles in 1966 and '67 also included wins in the first two Super Bowls). Sixteen other teams, from the 1924 Canton Bulldogs to the 1999 Denver Broncos, have tried and failed to capture that elusive third consecutive NFL championship.
We find it hard to believe New England could become the first team to reel off three straight Super Bowls victories, especially with the loss of both coordinators and some major departures from its defense. After all, some truly great teams have tried and failed to win three consecutive titles. Consider the case of 1950's two-time defending NFL champ, the Philadelphia Eagles. In 1948 and 1949, they were one of the most dominant teams in NFL history, posting a 20-3-1 record while outscoring the opposition by nearly a 3-to-1 margin (740-290, or 30.8 PPG for, 12.1 PPG allowed). It all fell apart for the Eagles in 1950, as they muddled through a 6-6 campaign and lost their last four games. Since that dominant 1949 team, the Eagles organization has captured just one championship, and that came in 1960.
The weight of history, in other words, is clearly not on New England's side. So we looked around the league, scoped out the strengths and weaknesses of each and every team, while paying special attention to those teams we believe are potential contenders
. Sure, we find it hard to believe the Patriots can win a third straight Super Bowl. But after an examination of each and every team, not to mention some quality time alone with the Cold, Hard Football Facts and a box of Kleenex, we find it even harder to pick against them.
Our reasons are threefold:
First is our contrarian nature. Most "pundits" and previews believe the weight of history is too much for New England and that the Colts will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and that they or the Eagles will win it. Even the lowly Panthers – dead last in the league last year with an 0-7 record against quality opponents
– have generated a lot of preseason Super Bowl buzz, courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
Of course, we have absolutely no faith in the "pundits." After proving them wrong time and again over the past 12 months, we feel reasonably certain that they'll be wrong this time, too. Our arguments, at least at this early point in the season, are just stronger than anything the "pundits" can piece together on behalf of another organization. (For the sake of humoring us, look at this Super Bowl prediction from one noted "pundit"
and count how many Cold, Hard Football Facts are used as he makes the case for Oakland to win the Super Bowl. If you can't be bothered looking, and we would suggest you don't, the number of facts used is zero. A monkey could have written that story with a banana for a pen.)
Second, like the "pundits," we're looking for reasons to pick against New England. After all, it's boring and cliché to pick the defending champs. But judging by statistical criteria, there is absolutely no clear-cut favorite that makes us stop and say "that's the team!" that will unseat the Patriots. Every team, including New England, has its weaknesses and gives us reasons to question their ability down the stretch. All things being equal, we're inclined to stick with the team that has put up historic accomplishments over the past two years and that has proven it can get the job done. We'll remain so inclined at least until the Patriots begin to show cracks on the battlefields of the NFL, or until another team appears to be ascending above them. At that point, you'll learn more here about that ascendant NFL power than you could possibly imagine. But at this point, a superior team does not exist.
And third, there is our childlike dependency upon the Cold, Hard Football Facts. We suckle from their nipple for pigskin nourishment (sometimes mixing it with a little bourbon and ice) while filling our bellies with football wisdom.
Here then is why we believe that the Patriots should win the Super Bowl again this season:
They are a rising power
Overlooked by all the "pundits" and prognosticators is one very interesting Cold, Hard Football Fact: Each New England champion has been stronger than the next. In other words, the Patriots have shown no signs of weakening during their championship seasons.
- the 2001 Patriots went 11-5 and had a scoring differential of +99
- the 2003 Patriots went 14-2 (+110)
- the 2004 Patriots went 14-2 (+177)
It's quite possible that we've yet to see New England field its best team. It's also possible that the Patriots could be worse this year than they were last year and still win the Super Bowl.
While not unique in NFL history, New England's continued improvement is at the very least unusual and bodes extremely well for their future chances. Other great powers in NFL history who have won three or more championships in short periods of time have slowly declined before sputtering out into anonymity.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s, a team to whom New England is often compared because each won three titles in four years, got progressively worse as its champion seasons wore on.
- The 1992 Cowboys went 13-3 (+166)
- The 1993 Cowboys went 12-4 (+147)
- The 1995 Cowboys went 12-4 (+144)
The Packers of the 1960s suffered a similar fate as the Cowboys. Though they did not follow a straight line down, they peaked early (1962) and generally declined before winning their final title with the weakest of their five championship teams.
- The 1961 Packers went 11-3 (+168)
- The 1962 Packers went 13-1 (+267)
- The 1965 Packers went 10-3-1 (+92)
- The 1966 Packers went 12-2 (+172)
- The 1967 Packers went 9-4-1 (+123)
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s fielded their best team in 1975, the second of their fourth championship teams.
- The 1974 Steelers went 10-3-1 (+116)
- The 1975 Steelers went 12-2 (+211)
- The 1978 Steelers went 14-2 (+161)
- The 1979 Steelers went 12-4 (+150)
New England may not win the Super Bowl this year, but when we compare the Patriots with other great NFL powers, it doesn't appear that their role as a contender is ready to end – yet.
There is a big gap between NE and its top competitors
The "pundits" tend to believe that New England has eked out one narrow victory after another, and they usually cite the three three-point Super Bowl victories as evidence.
The truth is that the Patriots have generally dominated the league's top teams over the past two seasons. They have played 21 games against teams with winning records since 2003 and have an amazing 20-1 record to show for it. No team in NFL history has ever bested 20 teams with winning records over a two-year period. In fact, only three teams in NFL history have beat 10 winning teams in a single season: the 1979 Steelers, 2003 Patriots and 2004 Patriots.
The two most dominant teams in football over the past two seasons, other than New England, have been Philly and Indy. Over this two-year period, these two powers are a combined 55-13 (.809) against the rest of the league, but 0-6 against New England. (Colts, 27-6/0-4; Eagles, 28-7/0-2).
New England has outscored Indy 27.2 to 18.7 (+8.5) in their four meetings, including two playoff meetings and an AFC championship game; and bested Philly 27.5 to 15.5 (+12.0) in two contests, including Super Bowl XXXIX.
New England has won at an historic rate
New England didn't just win over the past two years. It has won at a clip rarely seen in NFL history. Its 34 wins in two seasons is an NFL record, as is its 21-game win streak from 2003 to 2004, which shattered the old NFL record of 18 and stands as the second-longest win streak in the history of major North American sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). New England's two-year mark of 34-4 (.895) is second in the Super Bowl era only to the 32-2 (.941) record registered by the 1972-73 Dolphins. Since Week 5 of the 2003 season, the Patriots have equaled the Dolphins 34-game record of 32-2. Of course, the Dolphins followed that amazing 32-2 stretch with, well, nothing. They've yet to win another Super Bowl since 1973.
They've torched their doubters
It's obvious to many observers that New England has thrived on doubt. They won in 2001, when they lost their starting quarterback and everyone said they could not win. They won in 2003, when they lost more games to injury than any team in football – fielding 42 different starters – and everyone said they could not win. They won in 2004, when everyone said they couldn't repeat.
Essentially, anyone who's bet against New England in recent years has been roasted like a Green Bay bratwurst
, and should certainly have learned their lesson. Consider this: even more remarkable than New England's 34-4 mark over the past two seasons is its 27-9-2 record against the spread. In other words, if you've bet against the Patriots each week over the past two years, you've lost money three out of every four times you've placed a call to your bookie. Doubting New England, then, does not seem like a very smart proposition. At least not at this point in the game.
What does all this mean heading into 2005? It may mean nothing. The Patriots may go out and lay an egg and become this year's version of the 1950 Eagles, a dominant power that sunk like a mob victim weighted with cinder blocks, or the 2004 Panthers, a team with a lot of hype and potential that fell flat on its face.
Sooner or later the Patriots will become that team, the has-been talking about past greatness. But until we see evidence that New England is floundering, we're going to take our chances on a team that torches its doubters three out of every four opportunities – and torches its opponents nine of every 10 times it steps on the field.